The new boss stopped by the office Monday.
John Henry arrived without entourage, in the low-key fashion that has fascinated Boston for more than a decade. Unlike the last time the Globe changed owners, in 1993, my Twitter feed exploded as word spread of the new boss’s arrival.
The Red Sox owner toured the newsroom, desk by desk, as people introduced themselves and told him what they do. Henry was clearly curious about all of it, and I was amused at the thought of my bosses struggling to explain what, exactly, an editor does.
Mr. Henry made his way over to my desk, and we were introduced. He caught himself as he began to ask what I do. “Oh, I know what you do,” he said. I hoped my relief wasn’t too obvious. He asked what my next column would be about. I had no idea.
Henry professed a preference for the sports pages, but did say he had read a few columns by me and by someone named Brian. “They were good,” he said, politely. Colleagues who had the presence of mind to ask him why he wanted to buy the Globe, or what he wants to do with the paper, were told answers would come later, after the sale closes.
Henry and I had spoken before, years ago, for a column about the Red Sox Foundation. The Sox employee who set it up advised me to “listen really closely, because he barely speaks above a whisper.” Sure enough, he was thoughtful, interesting, and barely audible. He’s a bigger presence now.
This has been a time of upheaval in the newspaper business. Not long after Henry left Monday, the news broke that the Washington Post has been sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for $250 million. The era of the newspaper conglomerate is over, and the age of the newspaper tycoon has returned. Charles Foster Kane lives!
Except not really. There is no going back to the future, because reality has so rudely intruded. The news business is, how can I put this, in the midst of reinventing itself. As you may have heard, the old model is dead, and the new one is being figured out. Rumor has it that Henry has great ideas about how to boost revenue. That would be welcome news, if true, because the revenues of even great newspapers have been in precipitous decline.
Still, there is a reason why smart, successful people want to own newspapers. Part of it is the megaphone, the opportunity to influence public debate. Part of it is bragging rights. Part of it, perhaps, is the challenge of figuring out how to save papers.
Bezos has made $25.2 billion, according to Forbes, selling (mostly) books through the mail. That sounded like a nutty idea — why not just go to the bookstore? — until it worked. Just because we don’t know the new model doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The old owners were fine, except for the time they decided to steamroll my union, but eventually they wanted to part ways with us. Being owned by someone who is excited to own us should only be good for The Globe.
Being owned by a billionaire doesn’t sound terrible either, if only because figuring out this business isn’t a three-month proposition.
Sure, everyone’s head is spinning at the upheaval. But at a deep level, it’s never really been about who signs the checks. That unwittingly profound question — what do you do? — has the same answer it’s always had. Everything has changed, except the mission.
So welcome aboard, Mr. Henry. Welcome to the great magical unknown that is the future, and the present, of this paper and every other.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this column misstated the net worth of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the prospective new owner of the Washington Post. According to Forbes magazine, his net worth is estimated at $25.2 billion.